Friday, October 9, 2015

Easy, Peasy. Cabbage and Peas, Bengali Style, #Vegan and #Gluten Free

   I grew up as a city kid in San Francisco before the time of crazy real estate prices and the influx of Silicon Valley Money. We lived in a working class neighborhood, where houses like the one I lived in most of my early life now sell for gazillions of dollars. Money was tight around our house and Thursdays (payday) were a big deal. My mom would go out and buy meat. Big whoop! Between paychecks we ate a lot of vegetables, unfortunately, most of them frozen as those were cheap and easy to fix. We also had a LOT of those 98 cent boxes (yeah I'm dating myself) of Kraft Mac and Cheese. If a neighbor went fishing in the Bay the whole block got in on the catch and we had fresh fish, but vegetables...not so much. One year I decided I'd attempt to grow some vegetables in our backyard such as it was. I bought seeds, planted them and at harvest time, got 2 zucchini and 1 pod of peas. That was the end of my "urban farming." It was back to Lima beans in a freezer bag and bell pepper surprise on the Wednesday before paydays.

   Flash forward to the present and I finally got my growing act together. I've always enjoyed foraging, both around the neighborhood in Santa Monica, and here in Sonoma, but this year we really got serious and planted a serious ass garden! When we bought our new house last year, besides doing interior renovation to make it water and energy efficient, as "green" as we could, we also took out the lawn and xeriscaped  both in front and in back. We put in 7 big raised growing beds, along with fruit trees, and this summer we started  reaping what we had sown.

   Here in Sonoma, there are a lot of farms so fresh vegetables are all over the place, but good organic stuff still can have a pricey sticker so we concentrated on planting things we loved and I cooked a lot in my Indian dishes. A lot of then veggies we grow are things that have a higher price tag in the markets. This Butternut squash for instance..all 8 and 1/2 lbs of it, organically grown, would coast 3 bucks a pound at the store, yet it's only one of the monsters I have in the garden. Prepare for a lot of squash recipes.

There are some vegetables however that are available very cheaply, and those I did not bother to plant, chief among these is cabbage.

   Cabbage is one of my favorite vegetables. It's amazingly versatile and can be found in almost every cuisine on the planet. There are a lot of cabbage dishes in the Indian kitchen most of them very easily, and inexpensively prepared. This Begali cabbage dish, aka Torkari is one of them. Just a note before starting. A very easy, in a cheap way, to fix this dish is to use bags of pre-shredded cabbage that are sold for coleslaw. These bags usually cost about 1 dollar and I recommend them for economy's sake for those who don't feel they'd like to commit to an entire cabbage. It's also a hell of a lot easier if you don't have the time or inclination to chop and shred. This dish can be on your table in under an hour which makes it a real keeper for work days.

Bengali Cabbage, Potato, and Peas

Here's What You Need:
1 cup of shredded fresh cabbage ( or 1 8 oz bag of preshredded coleslaw cabbage)
1 large boiling potato (cubed)
1 curry leaf (optional)
1 tsp cumin seed
1/2 cup of green peas (fresh or frozen)
3 Tbs vegetable oil (I use coconut oil)
1 large tomato fresh or 1 16 oz can of chopped tomatoes
1 tsp ginger paste
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp kashmiri chili
2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp garam masala

Here's What To Do:

Traditionally, this dish is cooked by frying the uncooked potato in oil but I find if one wants to reduce the amount of oil in a dish, this isn't the greatest idea. Potatoes like eggplants tend to really soak up the oil, so what I do is quickly boil or steam the potato while I'm chopping up the other ingredients. This takes about 15 minutes. Cut the potato in quarters and drop it unpeeled in some water, by the time it boils it'll be pretty much cooked. When it's fork tender, it's ready.  Drain it, run cold water over the cooked pieces and set it aside to cool.

Place the grated cabbage in a bowl and pour cold water over it to cover.

Set it aside to soak for 30 minutes.
Peel the cooled, cooked potato.

Chop the potato into cubes.

Set them aside.
Make the ginger paste. Cut a 1 inch piece of raw peeled ginger into thin slices.

Place the ginger slices into a grinder along with the ground cumin, turmeric...

...and Kashmiri chili.

Add a teeny bit of water...

...and grind it into a paste.

That is your ginger paste.
Slice the fresh tomato, then chop it. This one is right out of our garden.

When the cabbage has soaked for 30 minutes, drain it.

 Heat 3 Tbs of vegetable oil in a skillet or kadhai. I use Sonoma Harvest Organic Coconut Oil.

When the oil is hot toss in the cubed potato.

Since the potato is already cooked, you just want to stir it around a bit so it crisps slightly.
Now, add in the curry leaf (if you are using it) and the cumin seeds.

When the cumin seeds start to sizzle add in the chopped tomato.

Stir it around toss in some salt to taste.

Cover the pan, and cook the tomato until it's soft.
When the tomato is nice and soft add in 1 tsp of the ginger paste.

Cook, stirring things around until they're well mixed and the oil in the pan starts to separate from the spices.
Add in the peas...

...and the drained cabbage.

Mix everything together well, then turn down the heat, cover the pan and let things simmer for about 20 minutes.
Take the lid off the pan, and if you have a lot of water coming off the cabbage, turn the heat up and let the water evaporate from the pan.
When the water has evaporated toss in the garam masala, and the sugar. Check for seasoning. Add more salt if necessary.

If you  are not vegan, at this point you can drizzle 1 melted tablespoon of butter or ghee over the finished dish before serving. This is not required however.
Serve it up!

   Spicy, sweet and crunchy, this is a delicious dish that requires nothing more than some rice and chapatti for an easy Indian lunch, or you can pair it with any Western meal for a great and inexpensive side. I love cooking with cabbage almost any time of year and those little bags of coleslaw cabbage are a real money and time saver. Coming up next a very special dessert, care of CocoaPlanet Chocolate. Follow along on Twitter at @kathygori

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Garden to Table, Bengali 5 Spice Eggplant, An Indian Take On Ratatouille.

5 spice vegetables
   I love Fall weather here in Sonoma, we still have warm days, yet the nights get chillier and chillier as we edge toward Deep Fall and Winter. This time of year always brings with it my very favorite vegetables, not the least among them Butternut Squash. When we planted our garden this year one of the first things I knew I wanted was Butternut Squash. It's one of the most versatile vegetable out there. I make soup, curries, ravioli filling, and koftas among other things. In my kitchen it runs the gamut from Indian food to Italian favorites for the family holidays.
   The Indian kitchen  has many recipes that call for squash and pumpkin. These two vegetables are pretty much interchangeable; most of the canned pumpkin we find in the markets is actually butternut squash.

    In fact Lord Google says: canned pumpkin puree and pumpkin pie fillings are usually made from different kinds of winter squash than the pumpkins frequently carved as jack-o'-lanterns for decoration around Halloween.

Experiments with pumpkins can be spotty at best. I have stuffed and baked large whole pumpkins no problem, but when it comes to smaller items like vegetarian side dishes, curries, and koftas I prefer to rely on butternut squash.
   Our butternut squash harvest this year is immense!! Two plants have sent runners and squashes all over the backyard in a colonizing pattern. Harvesting is like tippy toeing through a mine field. I don't want to step on the squash or trip over the vines.  So, I carefully harvested a likely looking specimen.

Eggplants are bidding a fond farewell to the garden so we're using them up quickly along with the serrano chilies which are turning red. This is a real "use up what one has on hand" dish.

   I used eggplant, butternut squash, and potato, but you might try zucchini, pumpkin, whatever you have plenty of. Like the traditional French Ratatouille, this is a simple stewed vegetable dish but instead of adding the usual French spices, the Bengalis make their vegetable stew with a mixture of 5 spices, aka Panch Phoran , and there is the difference. A Panch Phoran is a mixture of roasted and ground spices, found in the Eastern regions of India, particularly Bangladesh. This is a great spice mixture to have on hand so make a bunch. Once your spices are toasted and mixed you're in business for future dishes.

Bengali 5 Spice Eggplant

Here's What You Need:
1 Eggplant
1 Butternut squash
1 large boiling potato ( I used a Yukon Gold)
2 dried red chilies broken in half (I use chile arbol from Rancho Gordo Foods)
1 Tbs Bengali 5 Spice Mixture *
2 Tbs vegetable oil. I use coconut oil
2 Tbs chopped fresh curry leaves. (if you don't have these leave them out for there is no substitute)
5 cups of mixed vegetables (eggplant pumpkin, squash, peas) cut up into 1 inch pieces
1 cup of peas fresh, or defrosted frozen
1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp of salt
1 tsp sugar
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Here's What To Do:
Make your five spice blend.

* Bengali 5 Spice Mixture (aka Panch Phoran mixture)
 Mix together
2/3 cup cumin seeds

1/3 cup fennel seeds
1/4 cup black mustard seeds

3 Tbs kalongi,aka nigella, aka black onion seeds
2 Tbs fenugreek seeds

Heat a cast iron pan
when the pan is hot put al of the spices in it.

Stir them around dry roasting them until they turn warm and fragrant. This takes about 2 minutes.
Let them cook then store them in an airtight jar.

This will make a LOT more of this spice mix than you need, so save it for other dishes. Bingo, Panch phoran!   Now back to the recipe.

Peel and cut your potato...


...and butternut squash into 1 inch pieces.

Mix the raw vegetables together and set them aside.
Take your chopped curry leaves, and  2 dried red chilies broken in half and set them aside.

In a skillet or kadhai heat 2 Tbs of vegetable oil. I use Sonoma Harvest Organic Coconut Oil

When the oil is hot, toss in the dried red chili pieces.
Stir them around until they start to tuirn color, about 30 sconds is allit takes if you oil is hot.
Add the 5 spice powder (NOTE: You can grind the Tbs of spice powder before you add it, though I prefer to use the spices whole for this recipe.)

Add the chopped curry leaves and vegetables right away.

Stir everything around and cook the vegetables until they start to turn golden.

This takes about 10 minutes. If you need to add a bit more oil, to keep things from sticking, go ahead.
Once the vegetables have cooked down add the  paprika...

...salt, and sugar.

Mix it all together, turn down the heat and put a lid on things. If you are adding fresh peas put them in now. Cook for about 10 minutes. Check it every once in a while to stir things up make sure nothing's burning. If things start to get too dry you can add about 1/4 cup of water. About 5 minutes before you're done cooking; add the defrosted frozen peas if that's the type you're using.

When everything is tender; put it in a dish, chop the cilantro and sprinkle it over the vegetables and serve it up.

this is a delicious and simple dish than can be made with a lot of different vegetables: Just use what you have on hand. It goes from garden to table in about 1/2 hour and you can't beat that for healthy, fast food. Coming up next, something sweet. Follow along on Twitter @kathygori

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Eggplant, Sweet and Sour Indian Style

   We have so many eggplants this year, in so many different varieties (yeah, I went a little nuts there) that I have been nearly at a loss as to what to do with them all.  Fortunately Indian cuisine loves the eggplant and there are at least five times as many recipes for eggplant as the eggplants in my garden, and that's going some. Every day when we take our lunch break from writing, I go out to the garden to see what's up and I usually come back with eggplant.

So, I've done them spiced, roasted, how about sweet and sour. Whoa, you only thought sweet and sour was found in Chinese recipes?  Well, the Indians do sweet and sour too and it's amazing. What I like about cooking these recipes is that they're very, very, quick. Once the eggplant has been rubbed with salt to remove the bitter juices, it's rinsed and then the quick part. It's microwaved for 4 minutes which makes it soft enough to work with but not fully cooked. Sweet and Sour Eggplant is fast enough to get on the table when you don't want to mess around too long in a hot kitchen which makes it a great end of Summer, early Fall weather dish.

Sweet and Sour Eggplant

Here's What You Need:
2 large or 5 small Japanese eggplants
1 onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 shallot finely chopped
2 Serrano chilies finely minced, seeds and all.
1 Tbs tamarind paste (lemon juice can substitute but tamarind can be found in most supermarkets)
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 Tbs ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
2 Tbs crumbled jaggery (Indian palm sugar) or dark brown sugar
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 tsp garam masala

Here's What To Do:
Wash and slice the eggplants on the diagonal.

Place them in a collender and sprinkle them with kosher salt.

Rub the salt into the eggplant slices and let them sit for about 10 minutes to let the bitter juices drain out.

Rinse the salt off the eggplant and you are good to go.

Place the eggplant in a microwave-safe bowl with a cover and cook it for 4 minutes.

 While that's happening, mince the Serrano chilies together with the shallot and set them aside.

Halve the onion and cut it into thin slices, set it aside.

Heat 2 Tbs of vegetable oil, (I use coconut oil) in a skillet or kadhai.
When the oil is hot, toss in the cumin seed and cinnamon stick.

As soon as they start to sizzle, add the onion slices.

Cook the onion slices until they start to turn golden. This takes about 8 minutes.
Add in the Serrano chilies and shallot.

Stir everything around well and saute it for about 30 seconds.
Take everything out of the kadhai and  into a bowl and set it aside.

Add the cooked eggplant to the pan.

Stir it around. This won't take long because you've already precooked it in the microwave. Had you not done this, the next step would take about 15 minutes or so to get the eggplant nice and soft.
Add the onion mixture back into the pan along with the ground coriander, cumin, and salt.

Cover the pan reduce the heat and cook for about 3 minutes to make sure all the flavors have blended.
Add in the tamarind paste (or lemon juice)...

...and the jaggery or brown sugar.

Mix everything around then toss in your chopped fresh cilantro.

Check the seasoning, and add more salt if you need to.
 Other than that...that's it.
You can serve it up.

This dish goes well with just a simple Basmati rice dish, and some chapatti, or it can also accompany any Western style meal. Even my eggplant (let's not say hating) husband liked this dish, and all the eggplants that have been set before him are starting to win him over. Actually I think he;s just relieved because of everything we planted this spring the only thing that didn't come up ...was the okra. So he's feeling pretty welll....good might be the word.

   Coming up next.,. the butternut squash is here, and there are a lot of fast and easy ways to cook those monsters. Follow along on Twitter @kathygori


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